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Gareth Bale finding Daniel Levy to be Real match

Rory Smith, The Times

Rory Smith says that the Tottenham chairman is proving an immovable object as the Spanish club rely on familiar tactics in pursuit of Gareth Bale Sir Alex Ferguson famously said that he would not sell them a virus, just a few weeks before Cristiano Ronaldo strode out on the catwalk at the Bernabu, flashbulbs blazing. That summer, in 2009, AC Milan had been just as confident, just as certain. Adriano Galliani, their chief executive, said Kak would not leave. Kak said Kak would not leave. Kak left. It was the same with Lus Figo and Zindine Zidane and Ronaldo. Every time, Barcelona and Juventus and Inter Milan said they would resist the overtures, stand tall and stay strong, that no amount of money would tempt them to the table. They say selling is impossible. They say it cannot and will not be done. Every time, Florentino Prez and Real Madrid get their man.

For almost a year, it has been clear that the Spanish side had identified Gareth Bale as the next member of that elite club. Ever since Real reached a partnership agreement with Tottenham Hotspur as part of the 33 million deal that took Luka Modric to the Bernabu, it has been apparent they would return, this summer, intent on making the Welshman the latest Galctico. What was not quite so obvious was how much they would be prepared to pay to capture him. When Prez, the president, made his informal opening bid to Daniel Levy, the Spurs chairman, last week, he offered a deal valued by Real at 86 million: some 51 million in cash, plus Fbio Coentro, the Portugal full back, and ngel Di Mara, the Argentina winger. That would have made Bale the most expensive player in history: not bad at all for a gangly youth overlooked by Arsenal and Manchester United, a teenager considered a curse when he first arrived at White Hart Lane, a player Harry Redknapp tried to offload as he sought to shape the Spurs squad to his own taste after his arrival. And not bad at all for a player who has managed only one campaign among the elite of the Champions League, and one who has never won a leading competition. When Prez sanctioned world-record bids for Ronaldo and Kak, they were recent Champions League winners; Zidane had single-handedly led France to the 1998 World Cup and helped his nation to the 2000 European Championship. Figo had won the Spanish league title twice with Barcelona. They were all proven entities. Bale is something different. Even Zidane, wheeled out over the course of the last year to ratchet up the pressure on Spurs and to do all he can to coax Bale to Madrid, admitted in May that the Welshman is not yet at the level of Ronaldo or Lionel Messi. There is no shame in that, of course, and there is little dispute that the 24-year-old is the finest player the Barclays Premier League can boast at present, but equally there is no denying that his rise to prominence is a relatively recent phenomenon: it was only last year that he first scored more than 20 goals in a single campaign. The sum of 86 million is an awful lot of money to pay for what he might become, rather than what he is. Prez, though, knows that his hand has been forced. His second-generation Galcticos project is at a delicate stage of its evolution, with Jos Mourinho departed, Barcelonas hegemony still unbroken, and that elusive tenth Champions League crown still missing.

His desire to see Karim Benzema, the third signing of that heady summer of 2009, succeed means he has allowed Gonzalo Higuan to depart for Napoli and refused to

enter the bidding for either Edinson Cavani or Falcao. He retains an interest in Luis Surez, but is undecided as to whether he wants to draft in competition for the Frenchman. He has already seen Barcelona state their intent by signing Neymar, the Brazilian wonderkid, for 50 million. He knows he needs a statement; that is what Bale, for all his relative lack of credentials, provides. In a sense, the price is a boon: Prez is willing to pay a premium just to steal his rivals thunder, just to prove his power. There is just one obstacle: where Ferguson, Galliani and the others eventually proved powerless to say no to Real, Levy is a different matter entirely. Prez will have known that from the struggle he faced in trying to buy Modric last summer, but even so, Spurs ability to turn down such a lucrative opening offer for Bale will have taken him by surprise. It seems as though the irresistible force has finally met an immovable object. On the face of it, Levys decision is pure, pig-headed stubbornness. That is how it has been interpreted by Bales representatives, who are furious at Spurs refusal to enter into a dialogue with Real. They felt they had a gentlemens agreement that Bale would be permitted to leave this year; they are unimpressed at what they perceive to be a transgression of that pact. Jonathan Barnett, the players agent, has been unusually public in trying to engineer a move even going so far as to appear on Marca TV, the broadcasting arm of the newspaper that functions as Reals paramilitary wing but his enthusiasm for a deal to be done is to be expected: most agents like to make hay while the sun shines, because it only takes an injury or a loss of form to deprive them of a payday for good. Even that leverage, though, has proved fruitless. Levys reputation as a master of the transfer market is, to some extent, misplaced he always sells high, but in doing so he often sells late, depriving his managers of the chance to replace and rebuild but he is, without question, a canny operator. His ultimate aim is to build Tottenhams value as much as possible, so that when he and the clubs owner, Joe Lewis, come to sell, the windfall is at its maximum. For that to happen, he needs Champions League football. And to get that, he needs Bale. Quite what happens now is uncertain. Real could go higher or Bale could break his silence and demand a move in a bid to force Levys hand. Real always get their man. Spurs do not allow themselves to be bullied. If that spectacular world-record opening bid was meant to be game over, it has failed. The game is very much on. Transfer trail: how the money talks

Gareth Bale 86m (?) Tottenham Hotspur to Real Madrid Honours: Carling Cup runner-up (2009) European appearances: 31 Cristiano Ronaldo 80m Manchester United to Real Madrid, 2009 Honours: Champions League (2008); Club World Cup (2008); Premier League (2007, 2008, 2009); FA Cup (2004); League Cup (2006, 2009) European appearances: 55 Zlatan Ibrahimovic 61m Inter Milan to Barcelona, 2009 Honours: Eredivisie (2002, 2004); Dutch Cup (2002); Serie A (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009); Supercoppa Italiana (2006, 2008) European appearances: 68 Kak 56m AC Milan to Real Madrid, 2009 Honours: World Cup (2002); Champions League (2007); Uefa Super Cup (2007); Club World Cup (2007); Serie A (2004); Supercoppa Italiana (2004) European appearances: 63 Zindine Zidane 47m Juventus to Real Madrid, 2001 Honours: World Cup (1998); European Championship (2000); Serie A (1997, 1998); Uefa Super Cup (1996); Intercontinental Cup (1996) European appearances: 70